TWO ALTER GUITAR EGOS FOR ONE TROMBONIST
For as long as I’ve known Marty Cook - which goes back to the middle of the eighties - he has been an ardent admirer of Ornette Coleman, a musician who seldom worked with a keyboard instrument. You may ask, what’s better than the sound of a good piano? Nothing - it is true. But a piano also nails down the sound of the ensemble, pins it to the wall - and not just the sound!
The idea of substituting a piano with a guitar is not new, yet there are advantages for the sort of progressive music Cook wishes to play. Coleman chose guitarists when he formed his band Prime Time, and it made sense within his musical conception. Modern guitar playing unites the colors and structures of chords with the open-ended freedom of running melodic lines, thus doing away with the restrictive elements of blocks of chords.
This use of the guitar instead of piano works in the same way for Cook. In my production ‘Phases of the Moon’, which was recorded back in 1993, Marty worked with guitarist Bill Bickford. The results must have encouraged Cook to want to work more in this format, only this time with only one horn, his trombone, and two guitars. Surprisingly enough, he found two high-caliber guitarists in Munich, Geoff Goodman and Gunnar Geisse, but what is even more amazing about both of them, is how such different styles and musical characters work together in such a creative way.
The one, Geoff Goodman, is an American with eclectic roots ranging from Country & Blues, jazz, pop, and Mid-Eastern music that flows from the soft and melodic to the harsh sounds of avant-heavy metal. Commenting on guitarists in general, sound engineer Mike Müller once appropriately called Goodman the ‘Last of the Space Cowboys’. The other, Gunnar Geisse has more European roots - he can be brittle and shrill, his approach more unconventional, more “off the wall”, emphasizing ‘moments of Monk’ in his own way. Each represents a different aspect of Cook’s imaginary musical world. They are, so to speak, two alter egos for one person, and both worlds are interlocked in some incredible fashion. As soloist on the trombone, the band-leader has more free space for improvisation than he ever had before.
At first, Marty worked with these two guitars purely as a trio, and in my judgement, it was the first time that Marty Cook had the chance to pull out his music - like a conjuror from a magic hat - in all its perfected form and content. The first time I heard this line-up was back in 1995 at the Jazzclub Unterfahrt and because as a producer I’m always looking for - or better said - listening for different, unusual sounds, I was immediately fascinated by this line-up’s concept. Likewise, on this album, there is a new inner geometry in Cook’s music that I’ve never heard before. The cross-references up and down the line of jazz tradition play a bigger role in here than in his former recordings. This becomes evident as he turns to urban Blues forms à la Monk, along with the freer forms of Jazz, in which elements of avant-garde classical music can so easily be integrated. However, in doing this, it is less about the harmonic structures here - they retreat into the background - than about shaping forms out of which unbounded possibilities for improvisation spontaneously occur - apparently of their own accord. For various reasons it took a long time to produce this group, but finally the dart - my fourth album with Cookin’ jazz - hit the target. Bulls-eye!
For the recording session, the phenomenal bassist Edwin Schuller was fetched from New York. Schuller has been on all of Cook’s albums since 1987. Peter Perfido is one of Marty’s favorite drummers in Europe. He is an outstanding player with enormous stylistic versatility. Both Peter Perfido and Ed Schuller have worked together with Romanian tenor saxophonist Nicolas Simion (check out ‘Viaggio Imaginario’). With this outstanding rhythm team propelling them on their way, Cook and his two guitars could travel any path they wished.
In the jazz tradition, Marty Cook constructs a musical foundation through an eclectic process which not only sums up his own experiences as a musician with roots in the turbulently creative New York jazz scene of the sixties, but discovers ever new and astonishing territories. These discoveries test the creative potential of all of his sidemen, and they stand up to that test.
The name Fractal Gumbo may be seen as a metaphor for a musical dish to set before a king. The ingredients may at first seem impossible to combine tastefully, so it is all the more surprising that they work together so well; they create thrilling, spicy moments you’d have hardly considered possible. A fine potpourri of allusions is all part of the program. The music of Fractal Gumbo is not like Ornette’s or Monk’s, or like anybody else’s music… in a wonderful way, it expresses the original voice of the one and only – Marty Cook!
Vouno, September 2001